CHINA—Imprisoned China Democratic Party Member He Depu wrote a letter to the Minister of Justice recently protesting about the prison diet and insufficient activity time outside the cell. He also requested improvements to prisoners' rights to maintain good health. A reporter interviewed He's wife, Jia Jianying, on February 2.
Reporter: I saw a letter yesterday. Is it the one written by He Depu to the Minister of Justice from inside the prison?
Jia Jianying: Roughly the same. He briefly explained the contents of his letter during our meeting. I summarized what he told me. When I visited him on January 26, he told me that he had written a letter to the Minister of Justice, Wu Aiying, on January 8 to appeal for improvements to prison food. The prison diet is very poor as the budget for meals is only 127 yuan (about $16 USD) per month.
He also mentioned that the time period for exercising out of doors is very short; sometimes, political prisoners are not allowed to leave the cell for a whole month. Deprived of exercise for long time periods and with poor diet, their health is deteriorating.
Reporter: Why only the political prisoners?
Jia Jianying: Since the other inmates have all admitted guilt, they are given more exercise time. But most of the political prisoners do not admit guilt; therefore they are not allowed to leave the cell to exercise. Some inmates may spend two to three hundred Yuan (about $24 to $36 USD) to buy food, but political prisoners are only allowed to spend 80 to 120 Yuan (about $10 to $15 USD), and everything inside the prison is very expensive.
They are “closely watched prisoners” who are monitored regularly. Others may buy food surreptitiously as the prison wardens are not strict about this matter. But the political prisoners are not allowed to do so. They said they would not dare to do that.
Reporter: How many people are in the same situation as He Depu?
Jia Jianying: I have heard that there are 18 teams, and each team has one political prisoner. I know of people like Yang Jianli, Hu Shigen, Jia Jianguo, Gao Zongming, Yang Zili, Xu Wei, Jin Haike and Yang Jianli who have also protested about similar situations.
Reporter: But He Depu did not mention other inmates specific difficulties?
Jia Jianying: He can't emphasize that, otherwise the letter would have more difficulty getting sent out. China claims that there are no political prisoners in China, so the prison does not admit that they are political offenders. But my husband's appeal is mainly targeting political prisoners.
It is now a concern that the prison may not deliver the letter to the Minister. The day before yesterday, I sent an email to the Minister of Justice asking if he had received my husband's letter. I have not heard anything back yet. So, I offered this letter to the media to make it public in the hope to help improve the prison situation because I have seen my husband's health deteriorating continuously in recent months.
Reporter: What signs have you seen that leads you to think so?
Jia Jianying: He looked pale and low in spirits. One can easily tell it was symptomatic of malnutrition. His blood pressure is high, he looked very thin, and I suspected that he was ill, but the prison never informed me of the examination results. I am very worried and anxious.
Reporter: What does he normally eat inside the prison now?
Jia Jianying: Boiled Chinese cabbage, potato and turnip all year round.
Reporter: No meat?
Jia Jianying: Part of his appeal is to encourage outside companies to compete for the prison catering business, instead of being solely managed by the prison.
There are different classes of prisoners—some cell bosses are eating well in prison, but people like my husband basically have no meat in their meals all year round except for a little on the National Day and the Spring Festival holidays.
Reporter: Can you send food to him?
Jia Jianying: No, Nothing at all. Even when he was ill, I was not permitted to send him any medicine.